Star of new D.C. Lottery ad is, well, dog poop

March 22, 2011

The D.C. Lottery has really stepped in it this time.

In a commercial that began airing in heavy rotation during the broadcast of March Madness games last weekend, a sharply dressed young woman leaves her apartment building, walks toward the street and then . . . sppllattt. The look on the woman’s face is unmistakable. She has stepped into that most feared of urban sidewalk hazards: doggie doo.

But rather than let us simply imagine the visual, the lottery ad pans down to the woman’s foot, which is lodged in an instantly identifiable pile. Did we mention she’s wearing open-toed shoes? We then see the woman’s face again, then her entrenched foot again, and then the woman on the verge of throwing up.

In the pantheon of disgusting ads — the ubiquitous Mucinex globs, for one — this newest commercial is possibly the most vile.

And what, you might ask, does this gross-out scene possibly have to do with the lottery?

Bad things happen every day to people, says the ad’s maker, Richard Coad, the chief creative officer at MDB Communications, a Washington-based firm that includes National Geographic and Fannie Mae among its clients. When bad things happen — let’s say your car is boxed in or your fly is down all day — you need something to counter it, something fun, Coad says. And fun, in the ad campaign’s catchphrase, is a “Lottery intervention!”

It’s an interesting idea to pitch the lottery as a remedy for bad luck. And specifically as a remedy for stepping in poop. Because the odds are, of course, that you won’t win when you play the lottery and that might really ruin your day. Though, if you follow the ad campaign’s logic, if you lose while playing the lottery, then you’ll need a “Lottery intervention!” It could be the start of a never-ending cycle. Lotteries, as the bumper sticker saying goes, are a tax on people who are bad at math.

Buddy Roogow, D.C. Lottery’s executive director, admits that he gasped when he first saw the ad. Then he laughed. “In a broad sense, we’re saying change your perspective on things, play the lottery and have some fun.”

Still, there were some questions about whether to run the ad at all.

“I won’t deny that I had some hesi­ta­tion,” Roogow says. “I thought, ‘Can we show that on TV?’ And then people started telling me all the things that had been on TV in terms of advertising, so we came to the conclusion that we could.”

Since the ad first aired, Roogow has asked that they not run during dinnertime or while kids might be watching. But though there have been some complaints about the ad, most of the response has been positive, say Roogow and Cary Hatch, chief executive at MDB Communications.

“Humor is so subjective,” says Hatch, whose firm won a five-year, $35 million contract earlier this year to handle all of D.C. Lottery’s marketing and advertising. “I think we can all identify with the annoying things that happen on an ordinary day.”

For Coad, who was also the brains behind the Jared Subway commercial campaign, there was no question that the ad had to go whole hog and not just imply what the woman had stepped in but show it as well.

“The idea is if we’re gonna do, let’s do it,” he says. “Why have a half-measure there?”

If the ad causes a stir, that’s fine with Roogow, who has headed the D.C. Lottery for a year after being the director of the Maryland Lottery for 13 years.

“A little bit of the philosophy behind the ad is that we are in a really tough market — we’re sandwiched between Maryland and Virginia — and somehow we have to break through that clutter and talk about our product being different,” he says.

And if it makes you feel better, the woman in the ad isn’t really stepping in dog poop. It’s actually a rather appetizing mixture of pudding, graham crackers and Cheerios.

Yum.

Joe Heim is an editor and writer for The Washington Post magazine. He has recently written about the role of presidents as consolers-in-chief and about Washingtonians personal experiences with gun violence.
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